Sunday, July 25, 2010

Green Beans from Brussels

Last November, I visited a friend in Brussels. She is extremely hospitable and rolled out a red carpet for me, although the circumstances of my visit were not very favorable. My friend was stressed about her job contract ending and her mother, who is an amazing cook and usually cooks for all their guests, had a major pipes exchange in her apartment. On top of that, it was raining all the time, as expected. But Brussels is famous not only for its never-ending rains but also for its restaurants. So, in addition to visiting my friend, I was also on a culinary mission.

When I was a teenager I had a crush on a boy who lived in Brussels. Every summer we met in Poland, and I was inhaling his stories about the life in the West he had in Belgium. Everything he talked about seemed fabulous to a young girl who had never been farther west than East Germany. I still remember some of his stories, including the one about how special the Belgian french fries were; they were so exquisite that he could not eat any others. Finally, almost thirty years later, I was there to verify his culinary tales.

My friend invited me to a restaurant located on Rue des Dominicains in the part of Brussels that is filled with places to eat, one next to another, with waiters waiting for clients on the streets and harassing every passing tourist. Although a reservation was recommended we were lucky enough to get a table without it. The menu was rich, but I knew what I wanted to order: the French fries, or rather Belgian fries that I heard so much about, perhaps with the famous mayonnaise dip. I also decided on lamb chops with green beans.

We got our portions. I took a bite of a perfect golden stick. Yes, indeed it was very good, maybe better than many others I had tried, but it was not mind-blowing. Or maybe I became so spoiled that simple fries, even the best in the world, were not able to impress me anymore?

The lamb chops were very good but the green beans which accompanied them were a revelation! These were the best green beans I had ever tried in my life! I ate the lamb and every last piece of the beans, but I left most of the world-famous fries. From then on, if anyone asks me about my culinary experience from Brussels, it will forever be about the green beans I ate there.

I was too shy to ask for the recipe, so when I came home I tried to figure it out. I think I got pretty close or accidentally created something equally good, because everybody who ate them was asking "What's in there? It's sooo good!"

Green Beans from Brussels

1 lb of fine, French green beans, can be frozen,
2 shallots,
1 tsp fresh coarsely ground black pepper,
3 tbsp butter,
1/2 cube of vegetable bouillon, or 1 tsp of Croatian Vegeta (it could be found at Eastern European groceries),

1. Boil 5 quarters of water with a tbsp of salt.
2. When water is boiling, throw the green beans in and cook for about 3 minutes, but no longer than 5 minutes; beans must not be raw, but should remain green and firm.
3. Strain the beans.
4. Chop shallots into as tiny pieces as possible or even grate them.
5. Melt butter and fry shallots until transparent on a large frying pan.
6. Add half of a crushed bouillon cube or a teaspoon of Vegeta, and throw the beans in.
7. Mix everything gently and heat up.
8. Season generosly with freshly ground coarse pepper and serve with meats.

Useful tip:
If you have cooked baby potatoes you can add them to the beans, mix together, and serve as one dish or with meat and salad.

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